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Cool facts about Saturn: Saturn is the second largest and sixth furthest planet from the Sun in our Solar System. This massive gas giant is most famous for the amazing ring system that orbits it. Like Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus, Saturn is made entirely of gas. It is composed primarily of 96% hydrogen and 4% helium. This means if you were to visit Saturn, you wouldn’t actually be able to stand on it (not much of a trip).
Named after the Roman god of wealth and agriculture, the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei first observed Saturn’s rings in 1610 though his telescope. Humans have known about Saturn for centuries prior to Galileo’s observations. Records from ancient Babylonian astronomers, nearly 3,000 BC (~5,000 years ago) show written movements of the planet.
1. Saturn is the flattest planet in our solar system
Because of the comparison between its large equatorial diameter (waistline) of 75,000 mi (120,500 km) and its polar diameter, which is 90% (67,560 mi (108,730 km)), the oval shaped Saturn comes in as the flattest all our planets.
2. Saturn takes its time going around the Sun
Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years. If you’re reading this and are less than 29.4 years old, Saturn has not yet completed a Saturnian year, or a complete orbit around the Sun in your lifetime.
3. Saturn has quite a collection of moons.
Currently (as of 2019), Saturn had 82 known moons, with Titan being the most famous of these celestial bodies. There are dozens of moonlets the orbit Saturn, but are too small to be classified as moons.
Titan is by far the biggest thing orbiting Saturn. Ninety percent of all of the mass in orbit around Saturn is Titan (this includes the rings). Bigger than Mercury, Titan is the only moon that has its own atmosphere. When the Cassini spacecraft flew by Titan, it sent back several pictures and released the Huygens space probe towards its surface.
In 2014, NASA reported they had seen signs of a new moon forming around Saturn. They noticed that matter on one of Saturn’s rings was starting to congregate.
4. Saturn would float in a tank of water!
Because it’s mostly made of gas, if you had a tank of water big enough to hold this giant, Saturn would float! The Earth for instance, made primarily of rocks and denser chemicals, would sink.
5. The rings of Saturn are not one solid piece
Saturn’s defining characteristic is its beautiful rings. These are primarily made of ice, rocks and dust. They vary greatly in size, with some being smaller than gains of sand, and others being taller than buildings!
6. Each one of Saturn’s rings orbits at a different speed
Saturn’s rings stretch out more than 75,000 miles (120,700 km) from the planet. Amazingly, they are only about 65 feet (20 m) wide!
7. Saturn has a unique formation of banded clouds
Similar to Jupiter, Saturn displays a banded pattern of clouds. These cloud layers are a reflection of Saturn’s rotation and follow lines on the planet’s latitude. The dark bands are usually areas of strong methane absorption, whereas the light bands are thick clouds which cover the methane below.
These bands move at different speeds and their jagged edges are caused when bands of differing speeds interact. Sometimes reactions originating from within the planet causes these bands to interact.
8. Winds on Saturn can reach 1,600 feet (500 m) per second!
Winds within Earth’s strongest hurricanes are no match for the wind speeds of Saturn. In comparison, the strongest hurricane winds found on earth are around 360 feet (110 m) per second. These are the fastest
9. The north pole of Saturn is a hexagonal cloud pattern
The picture below taken by the Cassini spacecraft really highlights this point. The wind pattern on the north pole, forms a near perfect hexagon.
Discovered in 1981, the sides of the hexagon are 9,000 miles (14,500 km) long (this is more than the width of Earth). The wind speeds in this shape are moving at nearly 200 miles (320 km) per hour.